Rise in demand for transparent face masks to help those who rely on lip-reading

24/07/2020 | Rebecca Twose

As of the 24th of July in the UK, the government has made face coverings compulsory when visiting shops, supermarkets, indoor shopping centres, banks, post offices, takeaways and whilst using public transport. If you choose not to wear a mask in any of the places above from the 25th of July, then you could face a fine of up £100 (unless you have a medical condition, disability or are a child under 11 years old).

The coronavirus pandemic has meant that face masks or coverings have become part of our daily lives with the UK government and the World Health Organisation (WHO) explaining that wearing face coverings may help reduce the risk of the virus from spreading. However, as the majority of people start wearing face masks more frequently, this will undoubtedly have an impact on those who are deaf or have hearing problems as they may rely on lip-reading to communicate. Currently, in the UK there are around 12 million people who have hearing problems so the demand for transparent face masks is high.

Face masks

Can you buy transparent face masks? 

Although transparent face masks have also slowly started becoming available to help prevent this issue,  they are not yet as widely available as other face coverings that can be purchased from shops or can be made at home.

This is also a problem within hospitals too, where NHS staff will be wearing medical face masks, but patients with hearing problems will struggle to communicate. To solve the issue, a Swiss startup company, Hmcare, has begun developing transparent and breathable surgical face masks called the HelloMask. At this moment in time, the HelloMask is only available to hospital staff and at the moment the only masks for the public are available from independent sellers on sites like Etsy.

Several UK charities such as the National Deaf Children’s SocietyAction on Hearing Loss and the Royal Association for Deaf people have joined forces to encourage Public Health England and NHS England to commission transparent face masks that will stop those with hearing loss or total deafness feeling isolated.

Roger Wicks, director of the London-based charity, Action on Hearing Loss, told The Independent: “Many people who are deaf or have hearing loss rely heavily on visual cues for effective communication including facial expressions and lip-reading.

“Being able to see lip patterns and facial expressions are also vital for those who communicate through British Sign Language. Words which sound similar but have different meanings become very difficult to distinguish and face coverings are a big barrier to this.”

Wickes has also been in contact with the Department for Transport to call for more guidance when it comes to exemptions to wearing face masks whilst on public transport.

“It is vital these exemptions are communicated to transport staff and the travelling public – many disabled people fear they may be abused in the street for not following social distancing guidelines, and the public need to understand that there are numerous legitimate reasons for not wearing a mask,” he adds.

How can the public help? 

If you’d like to know more about how you can help support those with hearing problems during this difficult time, Action On Hearing Loss have created several information cards like the one below which you can read on their website: https://actiononhearingloss.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/General-comms-tips.pdf

Face masks